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Open your discussion of sensation and perception by showing students this image. Note the white on the clear bulb where the light is reflecting. Our eyes detect white, but our brains know that those white spots aren’t really white. Based on past experience, our brain perceives the white as merely reflections of light.

Clear light bulb

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Next, show students this photo.

Legs that appear shiny

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It’s not quite The Dress, but this is still pretty cool. Like many people, what you see are shiny legs. Do they look like they are covered in a hard, clear plastic?


But what if I told you that there is no plastic. It’s just strategically placed white paint?


If you saw shiny legs, you were perceiving the white as reflected light, as you rightly did with the light bulb. Once you’re told the white is paint, the shininess disappears, and you are just left with, well, white paint.

What can students do to efficiently learn and remember? Cognitive science offers answers, say Adam Putnam, Victor Sungkhasettee, and Henry Roediger in their new essay, “Optimizing Learning in College.” Their learning tips include these:

  1. Find a quiet place to study. Get away from the TV. Tune out social media. Shut down e-mail. Focus!
  2. Generate questions about important points. Generate questions to be answered by your reading, such as “What is cognitive dissonance? How do people study it?”
  3. Read, recite, and review. Mentally summarize a chapter after reading it. Then review it and take note of what you missed. For concept learning, flashcards help. “Recalling information from memory is one of the best ways to remember information. . . . Many newer textbooks also including online resources with interactive quizzes.” (Yes!)
  4. Write your notes instead of typing them. Leave your laptop at home. Transcribing lectures engages less active processing than does hand-writing your own synopses of the presented material.
  5. Space your study. “By spacing your studying you will learn the material in less time.” Attending lectures that cover—in different words—the same concepts previously read in a text also provides spaced learning.
  6. Study by quizzing yourself. To prepare for an exam, “practice testing is one of the best study strategies.” Another best practice is explaining something to someone else, as in a study group.
  7. Sleep and exercise. Exercise enhances focus and creativity (as well as having health and emotional benefits). “Sleep deprivation can hurt your cognitive functioning without your being aware of it.”